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The endless season

These January days mark either the end of the professional football season or the beginning - depending on how you look at it. Sports, it appears, has become as perplexing as the rest of American society.

It could be the season's end, because on Jan. 22 the old league's Super Bowl championship will be played.

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Or else it's the season's beginning, because on Monday, Jan. 16, the new league's preseason training camp opens - followed by a panoply of official games.

Time was when football knew its cyclical place: from September through November. Period. Nowadays its place is year-round, a continuous tape-loop from winter's tundra turfs to summer's griddle-iron heat, and back again.

Other professional team sports similarly elongate their seasons. Hockey's year pushes off on early fall's mushy ice and winds up in spring's rink-wide fog. Snow obliterates early-season baseball games, and late October's chill numbs World Series spectators.

One word explains it: money. Team owners want more. In simpler days they used to keep lots of it, back when baseball had only 16 teams and Connie Mack perennially managed one of them. Now they need it to pay astronomical salaries to grown men skilled at playing little boys' games. These athletes may bring in the spectators today. But the way things are going, soaring ticket prices may freeze out the modest-income fan who long has been the backbone of professional sports.

Meanwhile, for athlete and spectator, whatever the sport, it's getting to be an endless season.

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